North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial


The Secession Movement in North Carolina

“In surveying the secession movement of the lower South, the evidence points to the

conclusion that it was not a conspiracy of a few leaders, but a genuinely popular movement.

It is true that minorities in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas were opposed to immediate secession.

Yet the Southern people had contemplated the probability of dissolving the Union for ten years,

and had debated the pros and cons in countless debates.

The wave of rejoicing throughout the lower South which followed the passage of the secession

ordinances indicated a deep popular approval. The common people of the South, except in

the mountain and hilly area which jutted into the South from Pennsylvania, agreed with the

aristocrats that the victory of the Republican party was a danger to Southern society

which must be met by secession.

The rise of this new [Confederate] nation was a part of that romantic nationalism of the

mid-nineteenth century which was agitating Europe. At last the dream of Southern nationality….

seemed to be realized – the romantic vision expressed by Langdon Cheves ten years earlier

at the Nashville Convention: “Unite and you shall form one of the most splendid

empires on which the sun ever shone.”

The secession of the lower South marks the end of a long period of sectional adjustment by the

fine art of compromise. The exercise of this art is indispensible in a democratic country like the

United States, containing regions with clashing economic interests and difficult race problems.

Traces of old sectional animosity have survived below the Potomac…..Today [1949] the South remains

the most self-conscious of American sections and for years to come is likely to preserve its deep

regional feeling. Such a state of feeling may be a powerful force for good, since it resists the

standardization of life in America.  The true function of this regionalism is to preserve

the rich variety of life in the United States, which is so stimulating to

the development of literature, art, and intellectual activity.”
(The History of the Old South, Clement Eaton, MacMillan Company, 1949, pp. 591-592)


Being then a popular movement for separation from the Union of 1787, as was the separation

from the earlier Articles of Confederation, it underscores that this 1861 conflict was not a "civil war"

for control of one government, but a war of independence on the part of several States no different than

thirteen colonies seeking independence from England. How then would we term this observance

the North Carolina Civil War Sesequicentennial?


The Secession Movement in North Carolina, J. Carlyle Sitterson

In the interest of providing a scholarly, well-researched and detached assessment of

the secession movement, as well as Union spirit, in ante-bellum North Carolina, we turn to

Dr. Joseph Carlyle “Lyle” Sitterson’s seminal work on the sources and development of secessionist

thought in North Carolina, from the Revolution through the 1850’s and the eve of the

War Between the States, published under the direction of the Departments of History and

Political Science of the University of North Carolina in 1939, and part of the

James Sprunt Studies in History and Political Science, Volume 23, Number 2.

Born in 1911 and a Kinston native, Professor Sitterson joined the history faculty of the

University of North Carolina in 1935, rose to Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, and

became Chancellor of UNC in 1966. He passed away 19 May 1995.

Overview -- Social and Economic Development of North Carolina
“The secession movement in North Carolina was characterized by certain features which gave

it a more than local significance. Within the State were found both the forces which impelled

the South to leave the Union and those who resisted until secession became an accomplished fact.

The presence of many influential individuals and groups intensely opposed to secession provides

an excellent opportunity to study and appraise the principal forces which were indifferent or

hostile to the movement for a Southern confederacy.

On the other hand, the existence of a body of opinion sincerely convinced of the desirability

of a Southern confederacy makes it possible to estimate the positive forces striving for Southern

nationalism.  A thorough study of the secession movement in North Carolina requires an analysis of the

socio-economic sectionalism of the State. Particular social and economic conditions provided

the setting in which the Southern Rights movement was born and furnished much of the

food upon which it was nurtured. Likewise, social and economic conditions furnished the

basis for opposition to States’ rights and secession opinion.

Although North Carolina was not one of the largest slaveholding States, advantageous

geographical conditions planted the plantation-slavery economy firmly on the coastal plain.

As early as 1790 in only three eastern counties did slaves form less than twenty per cent

of the total population. In 1840 slaves formed 42 per cent of the population of the section.

From 1840 to 1860 the slave population of the East increased 35.4 per cent as compared

with only 26.4 per cent increase in the white population.

In 1860 slaves composed 44.2 per cent of the total population of the section, whereas the

percentage for the entire State was 33.5 per cent. Approximately 14.4 per cent of the

slaveholders owned more than twenty slaves each [42.2 percent of slaveholders owned 5 or less slaves].

The majority of the white inhabitants of the East were not slaveholders, but small farmers who

raised wheat and corn and perhaps some cotton and tobacco. For labor they depended upon

their families and an occasional hired hand. On the sounds and inlets many engaged in fishing.

Also there were merchants, mechanics, and many members of the professional classes.

Although the East like the remainder of the state was primarily rural and agricultural, its

commercial and industrial development was of some importance. It contained the largest

towns and commercial centers in the State, Wilmington, Fayetteville, New Bern and Raleigh.

Its banking resources were greater than those of the remainder of the State, twenty

of the State’s thirty-six banks being located in that section.
(Sitterson, pp. 1, 5-6, 7-8)

State’s Rights and Federalist Strongholds”
“The political characteristics of the coastal plain, as well as its socio-economic features, served

to accentuate the distinctiveness of the section. As the end of the ante-bellum period

approached the coastal plain became increasingly the stronghold of the conservative

Democratic party. Indeed, long years of struggle in State politics to maintain the status quo

against a rapidly growing liberal western section which demanded reform in representation and

more liberal expenditures for internal improvements was of considerable importance in strengthening

the States’ rights philosophy in the East.

Opposition to increased expenditures, protective tariffs, and anti-slavery views in national

politics accorded with the position of the coastal plain on State issues.

In political, as well as socio-economic factors, the northeast differed decidedly from the

middle coastal plain region. It was a commercial, area interested in federal aid to commerce

and especially toward opening an inlet to Albemarle Sound in the vicinity of Nag’s Head.

Desirous of positive legislation by the federal government….it was a center of Federalist

strength in North Carolina as long as that party existed and for the remainder of the

ante-bellum period was the stronghold of the Whig party in the East.

The piedmont was not so clearly differentiated from the entire State as either the East or the mountains.

Indeed, its socio-economic system mirrored the chief features of both coastal plain and mountain region.

Although tobacco and cotton were important crops in a few counties, the plantation-slavery system

was not dominant in the economy of the piedmont….[and] a region of small farms on which

grain and livestock were its principal products. The number of those who lived on the verge of

poverty and want was undoubtedly smaller than in the remainder of the State.

The fifteen counties of the mountain area in 1860 formed the least populous and least developed

area of the State, having an aggregate population of about 119,257 [of which 10.2 per cent were slaves].
(Sitterson, pp. 9-11, 13-14, 18)

“The plantation-slavery regime was firmly established in the coastal plain in the ante-bellum period.

Rapidly becoming a minority section in the State in the ante-bellum period, the coastal plain was

thoroughly versed in a political philosophy and program of limited governmental action. When as a

part of the plantation-slavery region of the South it realized that the South was becoming a minority

section in the Union, it was not difficult to make the transfer of defense of a politico-economic

regime from the arena of the State to that of national affairs.

The traditional opposition of an agrarian section to increased governmental powers was strengthened

by a determined defense of its own peculiar civilization which it conceived as being attacked.

The socio-economic characteristics of the piedmont and mountains, on the other hand, made

it inevitable that they should regard the anti-slavery movement with less foreboding. Moreover,

there were elements in the life of the western area which were positively opposed to slavery.

The persistent opposition of the Quakers in the piedmont to the institution was of considerable

importance in maintaining for many years in that area more freedom of opinion on the subject.

Likewise, it acted as a deterrent to an enthusiastic adherence to the secession movement

as it gained strength in the State during the fifties. In addition to this religious opposition there

were important economic factors which produced among the yeomanry indifference and even

opposition to the slave system. Members of the artisan class thought that the

slave robbed the freeman of his wages.

It was to be expected that small landowners of the up-country, who had for generations struggled

against the dominance of the coastal plain in State affairs, would view with suspicion a Southern

Rights movement whose main strength lay in the plantation-slavery region. Many non-slaveholders

were apt to think that Southern rights meant primarily the rights of the slaveholder.”
(Sitterson, pp. 21-22)


Post-Revolution North Carolina:
“North Carolina emerged from the Revolution imbued with a strong particularistic spirit. Emphasis

upon and interest in State matters absorbed the energies of political leaders. The result was that

the State took little interest in the affairs of the Confederation.

When the Congress invited the States to send delegates to Philadelphia in 1787 for the purpose of

revising the Article of Confederation, the General Assembly appointed a delegation of five to represent

the State. The North Carolina delegation represented the views of the conservative minority in the State

which desired a strong central government….[but it] was not representative of the views of the majority

of North Carolinians who were apparently well-satisfied with the government provided by the Articles.

It is not to be supposed that the North Carolina delegates, though they desired a stronger Union,

favored a genuine national government rather than a confederation of States. Although they favored

strengthening the powers of the central government, they did not intend that North Carolina should

lose her sovereignty as a State.

Upon completion of the new Constitution, provision was made for its ratification by conventions

in the States. The anti-federalists, led by Willie Jones in the northeast, Timothy Bloodworth in

the southeast, Judge Samuel Spencer, Joseph McDowell and Thomas Person in the central

and western counties, campaigned vigorously.

They denounced the federal judiciary, declared that the poor would be burdened with taxation,

pointed to the lack of provisions guaranteeing the rights of individuals, and criticized the failure to

protect the rights of the States. Public opinion crystallized on the issue of ratification. The anti-federalists

were successful and elected a large majority of delegates to the convention. The farmers of

North Carolina looked upon the Constitution as an instrument designed to aid the commercial interests.

In the debate over the clause making the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and all treaties

made under the authority of the United States the supreme law of the land, Timothy Bloodworth….

declared that the new Constitution “would sweep off all the constitutions of the States,” would be

“a total repeal of every act and constitution of the States,” and would produce “an abolition of State governments.”


Richard Dobbs Spaight

On this point the Federalist leaders adhered to sound State sovereignty doctrine, holding in general

that the new Constitution was a compact between the States. Both William R. Davie and

Richard Dobbs Spaight, members of the Philadelphia convention, declared that the new government

intended a stronger Union without destroying the sovereignty of the States.”
(Sitterson, pp. 23-25)

“Both Federalist and anti-Federalist leaders in the State were strict constructionists in the early

[seventeen] nineties. James Iredell, Federalist justice of the United States Supreme Court, in

February, 1794, in his dissenting opinion in the case of Chisholm vs. Georgia, clearly

enunciated the States’ rights theory of government. His statement was completely agreeable

to the rising States’ rights Republican party and remained a cardinal principle in Southern

political thought until the Civil War. Iredell held to the theory of divided sovereignty, claiming

that in all matters except those specifically delegated to the federal government

the States remained sovereign.”
(Sitterson, pp. 26-27)

South Carolina’s Nullification Crisis:
“The sectional controversy over the protective tariff which had become bitter in the late twenties

was climaxed in 1832-33 by the South Carolina nullification movement. The North Carolina

legislature of 1827 adopted a resolution opposing the protective tariff.

William Gaston, a strong Federalist and ardent lover of the Union, was greatly alarmed at the

threat to the Union from sectional controversies. In 1833, he wrote his son-in-law in the following prophetic vein:

“There has been for several years, and there is now, a settled design among some of the

leading bold and artful politicians on this side of the Potomac to establish a separate Southern Confederacy.

Of this there is no doubt. The Tariff and Nullification were seized on as means for this end. These have failed –

but the design has not been abandoned.”

Although [Andrew] Jackson’s proclamation [against nullification] probably received the approval of the

majority in the State, leading States’ rights men made no secret of their opposition. The venerable

Nathaniel Macon pronounced the proclamation as bad as nullification. He declared himself

opposed to nullification, but expressed his firm belief in the right of secession which he considered

“the best guard to public liberty and to public justice that could be desired.

[Andrew Jackson’s] force bill, which provided for military aid if necessary for collecting the

revenue of the United States, was generally condemned by North Carolinians. According

to Representative Samuel P. Carson [of McDowell County], it “empowered [the executive]

to ride rough-shod over the sovereignty of a State.” While the State unquestionably disapproved

of nullification, it is not to be assumed that this implied a repudiation of States’ rights. On the

contrary, the faith of the majority in this doctrine was not materially weakened by nullification.

Moreover, it is probably that [Jackson’s] force bill served to increase

their sensitiveness on the issue of States’ rights.”
(Sitterson, pp. 31-33)

African Slavery in North Carolina:
“The subject of slavery received little public consideration in the State after the Missouri controversy

until the rise of the abolition movement. The answer of the South to the [violent slave insurrection]

threats of the abolitionists was a more rigid control of the slave population.

No sooner had North Carolina made these provisions for controlling her Negro population than

the Nat Turner insurrection occurred [in 1831] just across the border in Southampton County, Virginia.

The plot apparently extended into North Carolina and the neighboring country was soon wild with

excitement. Rumors of slave uprisings spread in every direction. Wilmington armed itself in defense

of a supposed attack [and] Raleigh, likewise, made ready to defend itself, and Hillsboro organized

a company of militia to send to the defense of the capital.

Fearful of slave uprisings and believing that the activity of the Northern abolitionists was calculated

to lead to dissatisfaction among the Negroes, the people of the South determined to make it clear

their position on incendiary literature, the right of a State to control its own affairs,

and the entire subject of slavery.

Harsh Reality of Slave Revolt

The North Carolina legislature of 1835 passed a series of strong States’ rights and pro-slavery

resolutions. These resolutions received the support of both Whigs and Democrats and

undoubtedly represented the views of a large majority of the population. Representative

Kenneth Rayner….warned that continued sectional hostility would lead to bloodshed. In 1840,

Democrats of Richmond County adopted a resolution that they would support no man for the

presidency “who does not give the South satisfactory assurances, that he is opposed to the

wild and mischievous movements of the abolitionists.”
Already, the abolition agitation in the North was making

Southerners distrustful of Northern political leaders."
(Sitterson, pp. 33-36)

“As anti-slavery sentiment in the North became more manifest, and as other slave States became

concerned, a few individuals in North Carolina began to speak out in opposition to what many

Southerners considered a movement against the rights of the South.

A correspondent in the North Carolina Standard (Democratic) declared that before the South would

submit to the “flagrant injustice” of the Wilmot Proviso it would “encounter the dread alternative

of disunion, and if forced upon it, civil war.” An editorial in the Standard pronounced the Proviso

both “treacherous” and “dangerous” and declared that if it were adopted “the Union will be

destroyed as sure as God lives in Heaven!”

A few months later W.W. Holden, editor of this journal, warned the North that there was a point

beyond which the people of the South “will not be driven, and at which, come weal or woe,

they will take their final stand.”

Democratic meetings in the……counties of Lenoir, Wayne, Wake, Warren, Craven, New Hanover,

Franklin, Nash, Onslow, and Northampton condemned in no uncertain terms the principle

embodied in the Wilmot Proviso. The Democrats of Warren…..denounced the Proviso as

“an arrogant assumption of power – an audacious outrage upon Southern Rights and destructive

of the ends of our glorious Union – and, come what may, cannot, and will not, be submitted to.”
(Sitterson, pp. 39-40


Mid-Nineteenth Century:
“Governor [Charles] Manly’s message to the legislature in November, 1850, expressed clearly the attitude

of the State toward the sectional disturbances. He declared that North Carolina rejoiced “at the

amicable settlement [Compromise of 1850] of this distracting controversy,” but let it be known

that North Carolina’s “deep and abiding devotion” to the Union would not make it insensible

to its rights, which rights it would never surrender.

Before the legislature convened in November, it had been urged to express “boldly and fearlessly”

the rights of the State. The legislature had no sooner convened than William B. Shepard of

Pasquotank [county] introduced in the Senate, November 23, a series of strong pro-Southern

resolutions which declared:

1. The Constitution of the United States is a compromise of conflicting interests and when

it fails to secure the objects for which it was created it “becomes the creature of the whim

and caprice of a dominant majority”;

2. “That although we love the Union of the States….we nevertheless regard the right to

secede from it as a right….which the people of North Carolina have never surrendered….

and that whenever a majority of the people of North Carolina shall solemnly resolve that they

cannot safely remain in the Union,….it is their duty to secede, and to punish such of her

citizens as refuse submission ot her will as rebels and traitors”;

3. Secession is an extreme remedy not to be resorted to unless all means of preserving

the Union have been exhausted;…..


Shephard made a forceful speech in support of his resolutions in which he

upheld the doctrine of State sovereignty. On November 27, John A, Gilmer, a conservative Whig

of Guilford County, introduced in the Senate a series of resolutions more moderate than those

of Shepard [which included]….the people of North Carolina cherish the Union and would consent

to its dissolution only upon “extreme necessity” [and] whenever actual necessity demanded,

North Carolina would resort to extra-constitutional means and protect

its rights and honor “out of the Union.”
(Sitterson, pp. 74-75

“The Inaugural Address of Governor [David S.] Reid, January 1, 1851, gave encouragement to the

pro-Southern faction in the legislature. He spoke out plainly and firmly on the slavery question,

charging the abolitionists and fanatics of the North with producing the crisis in national affairs.

“A solemn sense of public duty,” he said, “impels me to declare, that the encroachments of

the North on the domestic institutions of the South, have already

proceeded to the farthest allowable point.”

In view of the circumstances, he recommended that the legislature provide for taking the

steps necessary to maintain the Constitution of the United States and the rights of the

State in case the contingency should arise.”

On December 20, 1850, William S. Ashe, Democratic member of Congress from the New Hanover

[county] district, urged Thomas McDowell, Democratic member of the house of Commons from Bladen

[county], to make every effort to get the legislature to take a firm and decided hand. “Resolutions are

empty and idle,” he wrote, “unless they avow and establish a principle. Politicians may twaddle as

much as they like but unless some resource for protection is acknowledged to assist….

the sovereign States to shield themselves from wanton violations of the Federal compact,

the destiny of the South is made up and sealed. That resource is the right of secession.”

Throughout 1850-1851, the Democratic press maintained the right of secession. The Standard insisted

that just as no State could have been forced into the Union, likewise no State could be prevented

from going out. Other Democratic newspapers, notably the Goldsboro Republican and Patriot, the

Lincoln Courier, and the Wilmington Journal, also upheld the right of secession even though

opposed to its exercise at the time.

Among the Whig press, the Wilmington Commercial was most vocal in support of the doctrine.

It repeatedly declared the right of secession “the best means of preserving the Union, and the

only means of preventing a civil war,” since the rights of the South could not be left to Congress.

It was the view of the Milton Chronicle (Whig) that “the States came into the Union by a

voluntary act, and….by a voluntary act they can go out of it.”
(Sitterson, p. 78-81)

Secession Spirit Growing:
“In the congressional campaign of 1851, the Compromise of 1850 and the doctrine of secession

were thoroughly discussed. The strategy of the Whig press during the campaign was to declare

the issue to be that of Union or disunion and to charge the Democrats with designs to bring about secession.

The Raleigh Register [charged the Democrats with] “…a nefarious plot to chain our State to the

car of Disunion….Union and Disunion that is virtually now and will soon be the issue here!”

The remainder of the Whig press echoed this charge and called on the people to repudiate the

advocates of disunion. The Asheville Messenger….held that the “Federal Government has the power

to coerce a sovereign State, or half a dozen Southern States!”

Replying to such charges, the North Carolina standard denied that the Democrats were agitators

or disunionists, and asserted, on the contrary, that they were defenders of Southern Rights and

the Union. “The cause for secession, at this time, is not sufficient,” wrote the Standard.

The Wilmington Journal alleged that the Whigs were misrepresenting the advocates of the

right of secession in calling them disunionists. In the months preceding the election, Democratic

meetings in several counties had expressed themselves as in favor of “the right of the people of

a sovereign State to secede and peaceably withdraw from the Union.”

On the face of the [Whig victory] results throughout the State, it would certainly appear that the

people of North Carolina were opposed to disunion and undoubtedly were. The Raleigh Star (Whig)

was probably correct in attributing the result of the election to the strength of the Whig party and not

to the state of public opinion on the issues growing out of the contest between the North and the

South. All the candidates, it pointed out, had been in favor of the Union “as it is” and upon that

subject the members of both parties were in agreement.
(Sitterson, pp. 85-93)

The Consequences of Abolition:
“When the anti-slavery movement gained momentum in the [eighteen-] fifties, the slaveholding areas

of the South feared lest the interests of the agricultural slaveholding South be destroyed. Speaking

in the North Carolina Senate, November 27, 1850, William B. Shepard, Whig of Pasquotank, argued

that the “walling-in” policy of the federal government would mean ruination for North Carolina.

In support of his argument, he said that the amount of land in North Carolina available for slave labor

on a profitable basis was limited; such being the case, the natural increase in the slave population

would result in a rise in land value and a fall in the value of slaves. [Non-slaveholders] would find

land values beyond their reach and consequently would leave the State. The slaveholders would

be compelled to purchase land to employ and feed their surplus labor “until the State becomes one

vast plantation, barely producing enough to sustain, in the cheapest and scantiest manner,

her teeming black population.”

Henry Miller, Whig of Wake [County], made this argument [4 August 1858] the main basis of his

opposition to the Republican party. The policy of that party, he declared, was not to admit more

slave States, thereby hemming in slavery. The natural increase of slaves….made it necessary

that the slave area be extended or the South would be ruined. The policy of the Republican party,

if attained, would inevitably mean “the ruin of the South or the dissolution of the Union.”

The consequences of the abolition of slavery, declared the [21 February 1861] Wilmington Journal,

would be the lowering of the white men of the South to the level of the Negro, since the Negro from his nature

could not rise to the level of the whites.

“Do you desire the millions of Negro population in the South, to be set free among us, to stalk abroad

in the land, following the dictates of their own natural instincts, committing depredations, rapine

and murder upon the whites?” the Salisbury Banner asked its readers. The South’s concern for the

safety of white civilization at the hands of the uncivilized blacks was manifest on the occasion

of actual or threatened slave insurrections.

The non-slaveholding whites of the other areas seldom came into contact with the Negro. Knowing

little about the Negro or slavery in practice, they did not feel the threat of the uncivilized blacks to

their society to the same degree that the whites of the black belts did. The necessity for slavery

as a guarantee of white supremacy and civilization was not often expressed by the people of

North Carolina in defense of the institution.

Nevertheless, they were always conscious of the function of slavery for the control of the blacks.

In the fifties, “Southern rights” had become had come to mean racial security [in the face of abolitionists

fomenting slave insurrections], self-determination by the whites, whether in or out of the Union,

and all things ancillary to the assured possession of these.”
(Sitterson, pp. 100-102, 105-106)

Protective Tariff Controversies:
“One of the sorest spots in the relations between North and South in the ante-bellum period was

the protective tariff. Predominantly agricultural, the South had by 1850 become unalterably opposed

to the principle of [tariff] protection [for Northern industries]. North Carolina was in accord with the

rest of the South in its opposition to high tariffs. Both Whig and Democratic members of Congress

from North Carolina opposed the protective tariff as injurious to the interests of the State.

In 1850 the House of Commons adopted resolutions introduced by a Whig member declaring that:

1. The attacks of the people of the North upon the institutions of the South absolved North Carolina from

further obligation to the manufacturers of the non-slaveholding States by a tariff.

2. If North Carolina industries needed protection, it could be “better effected by State than by

Congressional Legislation [and] The North Carolina members of Congress should

oppose any increase in tariff rates.

Already the North Carolina members of Congress had aided other Southern members in defeating

attempts made in 1850 to increase the import duties in the interest, chiefly, of the Pennsylvania iron

industry. The Raleigh Register (Whig) expressed succinctly the attitude of North Carolina toward protection

when it wrote: “Who will rally under the banner of a protective Tariff, to enrich the abolitionists of the

North and East? We would like to see the Southern man who will?”
(Sitterson, pp. 106-107

“In 1860, L. O’B. Branch, Democratic representative from North Carolina, was one of the

chief opponents of the Morrill Tariff, declaring it to be a purely sectional measure that would have

an ill effect upon the disturbed state of the Union. Advocates of secession in 1861 said that the

Morrill Tariff and the Pacific Railroad Bill would cost so much that the Union

was no longer desirable for the South.

The public lands were another issue on which the two sections held different views. Southern

Democrats took the position that the proceeds from the sale of public lands should not be distributed

among the States but should be used to lower the public debt, and thereby to make possible a

reduction in the tariff duties. The view was frequently expressed that the Union gave unequal

advantages to the sections because of the inequitable revenue system under which the South

paid more than her just part of the federal treasury.

[North Carolina Representative Burton Craige]…..said [on 21 May 1853] that any other use

of the proceeds….then as a correction of this inequitable revenue system would make “an inroad

upon the constitution, fatal to its integrity – fatal to the sovereignty of the States – fatal to the peace

and security of the South, and fatal, sooner or later, to the existence of the Union itself.”

[Craige continued] “If the funds raised from customs [tariff duties] be allowed to be invested in public l

ands that they be distributed among the States, the next step will be that customs will be raised

for the express purpose of a like distribution; under which system the South pays almost the whole

of the customs, will be brought under a grinding and inexorable tribute to the North.”
(Sitterson, pp. 107-108)

“Both Whigs and Democrats in the State identified themselves with the Southern hostility to the

homestead movement. Moreover, the realization that the immigrants made the representation of the

north in Congress larger by its increasing population and by forming free [labor] States from the western

territories constituted one of the chief bases of the strength of the Know-Nothing party in the South.

The North Carolina Standard declared [April 22, 1857] that should the Homestead Bill become law the

people of the free States “would pour their thousands into the territories where the South sent

hundreds; and out of the strife engendered, and the blood shed, and the bitter hates made still

more bitter, would rise State after State of Yankee growth, to take their places in the Senate –

to vote us down on every question affecting our vital interests, and finally control the government

absolutely and reduce us either to subjection or force us into the horrors of a general civil war.”
Sitterson, p. 109)

Secession Threatened:
“Governor Thomas Bragg, in his inaugural address in January, 1855, showed such hesitancy as had

the legislature on the question of Southern Rights. He spoke as follows: “We cannot shut our eyes,

and ought not if we could, to the spectacle which has lately been presented in the non-slaveholding

States of this Union, and to the efforts which have been made….to array section against section

and people against people….The day may come….when our Northern brethren will discover that

the Southern States intend to be equals in the Union, or independent out of it!”
(Sitterson, p. 131)

“The election of [James] Buchanan and the defeat of the “black republican” candidate [John Fremont]

was received with rejoicing in the State. “Great but unknown dangers” have passed,” proclaimed the

North Carolina Standard, “and the Union, for the present at least, is safe.” However, mixed with the joy

was the note of apprehension for the future. Political leaders could not overlook the tremendous

vote polled in the North by the Republican party.

Weldon N. Edwards, time-honored leader of the Democracy in North Carolina, wrote significantly:

“I look with fearful apprehensions to the struggle four years hence – there will be much more of tumult

and peril in it than that which we have just passed.” A North Carolinian, writing from New York,

advised “only let it be understood at home that the agitation here [in the North] is not going to cease,

nor is the evil crushed to death by Mr. Buchanan’s election.”
(Sitterson, p. 138)

“In his inaugural address, January 1, 1859, Governor John W. Ellis made no threats of secession;

yet he showed himself to be aware of the aggressions upon the institutions of his section.

“We are not prepared,” he said, “for the acknowledgement that we cannot enjoy all our constitutional

rights in the Union. Should that day unfortunately come, but little doubt need be entertained that our

people will act as best comports with their interests and honor and with the sacred memories of

the past, to whatever the result may lead.”
(Sitterson, p. 144)

A North Carolina Independent of the North:
“John Brown’s raid in October, 1859, gave a decided impetus to the feeling in the South that

non-intercourse and complete economic independence of the North was necessary to the

maintenance of Southern Rights and to the preservation of Southern civilization.

Citizens of the State were encouraged to use no Northern products and to refrain from spending

money “in pleasure travel and luxurious living at the North.” “Let us then commence a peaceful

battle with the North,” urged the Raleigh Register, “and persevere in it until we achieve the

conquest of our freedom from our present unwise, dangerous and degrading dependence on her.”

The Democrats of Franklin County recommended “a determined and settled system of non-intercourse

with the North” as one of the best means of securing respect for Southern Rights. Southern importers,

capitalizing on the hostility toward the North, appealed to the merchants of the South for business

with the statement that “All of us hold sentiments in common….and of us desire… become

commercially independent of the North.”
(Sitterson, pp. 115-116)

“Northern periodicals containing anti-slavery articles likewise aroused tremendous resentment

among the people of the South. In 1854, both Harper’s and Putnam’s magazines were severely

denounced by the North Carolina press for arraying themselves against the South. The Edenton

Whig charged that these periodicals had “deliberately thrown themselves into the tide of

excitement now setting against us, and prostituted themselves to the disreputable task of giving

such a direction to its current as they hope may eventuate in the complete

destruction of our peculiar institution.

The following year the North Carolina Standard pronounced Putnam’s Magazine “only fit to be read

by the putrid masses of Northern fanatics, traitors, and political desperadoes.” As for Harper’s Magazine,

the Standard would have been pleased to see it “banished.” In the place of Northern periodicals, the

circulation of Southern magazines was encouraged as “the most effectual way of reaching the masses

and inculcating sound views and unity of action in regard to Southern institutions.” Likewise, textbooks

containing sentiments inimical to the institutions of the South were frowned upon and

in some cases excluded from the schools.”
(Sitterson, pp. 118-119)

A Separate Confederacy?
“In March [1860], Henry K. Burgwyn of Northampton [county] discussed the problem of a Southern

confederacy in a long letter which appeared in the Raleigh Standard. With striking foresight, he pointed

out that a confederacy could be set up by means of a convention which would meet following the

election of a Black Republican in November and a new nation would be underway

before his inauguration in March, 1861.

Should the North attempt to “whip the South back into the Union,” it was foredoomed to failure

because it would be unable to secure enough money to equip and maintain an army sufficient

for such an undertaking. It was more probable, in his opinion, that the two confederacies

would live peacefully side by side since the North was so

dependent on the South for its prosperity.” (Sitterson, p. 160)

“Upon the events of 1859-1860 must be placed the responsibility for immeasurably increasing

secession sentiment in North Carolina. Prior to John Brown’s raid the masses of the people

had never seriously considered the possibility of secession in practice. John Brown’s raid, the

[sectional animosities] of the Thirty-sixth Congress, the disclosures of abolitionist activities

in the State, and the apparent open hostility of the Northern people toward the South created an

uneasiness which was never entirely dispelled during the following year.

Substantial non-political leaders were for the first time shown the practical results of abolition activity.

In consequence, thousands of potential secessionists were created. It was, thus, in an

atmosphere conducive neither to moderation nor to compromise

that the presidential contest of 1860 occurred.
(Sitterson, p. 161)


“[The] State Democratic Convention….met in Raleigh, March 8. Governor [John W.] Ellis, in a

ddressing the convention, bitterly denounced the abolitionists and the leaders of the Republican party,

likening them to murderers and assassins. “The abolition of slavery here at home is the design

of our opponents,” he warned the convention. [Resolutions] asserted that the people of North Carolina

would resist aggressions upon their rights “whenever the emergency arises”; and finally, they declared

that the triumph of the Black Republican party “would be followed by continued bloody raids….upon all

the Southern border States; that such collisions would destroy that fraternal feeling between

the sections, without which the Union cannot endure.”
(Sitterson, pp. 161-162)

“The Constitution Union party, composed largely of former Whigs, made its campaign on the issue

of Union or disunion. The Whig press maintained throughout the campaign that [Vice President John]

Breckinridge was the candidate of the disunionists….[and promoted the candidacy of] Bell and Everett.

The Breckinridge Democrats….defended the Breckinridge party as the upholder of the rights of the South

and condemned those who would “preserve the Union at the sacrifice of [the] Constitution,

and the rights of the States.”

In the closing weeks of the campaign when the hope of defeating Lincoln [by joining the Douglas and

Breckinridge campaigns] began to grow dim, a feeling of impending disaster began to pervade all

classes of the population. In some sections apprehension of a slave uprising appeared and great

excitement prevailed for several days.

After the results of the October elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana came known,

the election of Lincoln appeared almost certain. Consequently, considerable attention was given to

the policy for North Carolina to adopt after his election. Since 1856 there had been frequent threats by

Democrats that the election of a Republican would lead to a dissolution of the Union.

When asked in October whether it would favor secession in the event of Lincoln’s election, the

Wilmington Journal replied: “It is not simply a slab-sided, rail-splitting Illinois politician that

we look at – it is the system he represents…..We speak only of ourselves when we say that

we think the perils surrounding submission are greater than

those attendant upon the opposite course.”
(Sitterson, pp. 170-172)

“The North Carolina Standard, for over a decade leader of the Democratic press, repeatedly stated

during September and October, that the mere election of a Republican president would not at

that time “be sufficient cause for dissolving the Union.” However, should some of the Southern States

secede, the Standard declared that it would oppose any attempt to coerce them back into the

union even to the point of forceful resistance.

R.S. Patterson, a prominent Democrat of Forsyth [county], wrote that he was unwilling to see

the country ruined because of the election of a Black Republican and favored submitting to his

election until a deliberate violation of the rights of the South occurred. Such, he declared to

be the sentiment of the people of Forsyth.”

George E. Badger

Most emphatic of all in their opposition to secession in the event of Lincoln’s election were

the Whigs. In an effort to solidify Union sentiment and to forestall any precipitate action in the

event of Lincoln’s election, the Constitutional Union party held several large Union meetings in

various parts of the State. The largest of these was in Salisbury [with addresses by]

George E. Badger, Alfred Dockery, William A. Graham, O.P. Meares, John M. Morehead…

and Zebulon B. Vance. “But one sentiment prevailed,” wrote a contemporary, “and that was,

we will fight for the Constitution, the Union, and the laws, within the Union and the laws.”
(Sitterson, pp. 173-174)

“Governor Ellis correctly described the attitude of North Carolina toward the election in a long letter

to Governor Gist of South Carolina. The people of his State, he wrote, were far from agreeing as to what

should be done in the event of Lincoln’s election. “Upon the whole,” he wrote, “I am decidedly of [the]

opinion that a majority of our people would not consider….[his election] as sufficient ground

for dissolving the Union of the States.”

Breckinridge carried the State by the small majority of 848, receiving 48,539 to 44,990 for Bell

and 2701 for Douglas. Douglas failed to carry a single county.”
(Sitterson, p. 175)


Copyright 2013, The North Carolina Sesquicentennial Commission